Sundance Film Festival: ‘Prisoners Of The Ghostland’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Prisoners of the Ghostland is a very fun film to sit through. It is beautifully shot, colourful and has a really interesting cast of characters. This was my first Sion Sono film and I really appreciated his style of filmmaking. He blends genres and breaks structural boundaries with his storytelling. He draws from Westerns, samurai and post-apocalyptic films to make his first American film. In the frontier city of Samurai town, a bank robber (Nicolas Cage) is sprung from jail, by a wealthy warlord ‘The Governor’ (Bill Moseley), whose adopted granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) has gone missing.

The story is very straightforward; it is a quest through the city and The Governor explains what Nicolas Cage has to do. The opening scene and the introduction to Sono’s world was really cool – I think that’s the best way to describe this film- it was just so cool. There was so much flare to his direction and the art direction was really strong. If Nicolas Cage wasn’t in this film, then it would have gone in a completely different direction. All I can say about Prisoners of the Ghostland is that it will definitely become a cult classic because of how it perceives Western culture. It may not be for everyone, but it is an interesting watch.

The film suffers from a poorly written script and some pacing issues. It was all over the place and instead of just enjoying the world that Sono created, I found myself trying to make sense of what any of it meant. Maybe this film isn’t meant to be symbolic, or parallel any world for that matter, and you just have to take it for what it is. They also made it seem that this film was going to have more fight scenes and it would be equivalent to a Tarantino bloodbath. However, the action was severely lacking as well. It was really hard for me to get into this film and all I can do is appreciate what Sono attempted to do with this.

Prisoners of the Ghostland may not be the film for me but it does have some really cool aspects that can definitely be appreciated. It is really difficult to understand what is going on but hey, Nicolas Cage is ranting, screaming and wearing a leather outfit. The soundtrack is really fun and it works with the action on screen! I really wanted to love this because I enjoy different takes on action films but this didn’t have a strong enough script for me to be invested in the project.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Land’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In Robin Wright’s directorial debut she captures the beauty of nature and the world we live in. Her character, Edee has been suffering for a while now, after the loss of her husband and son. She has been trying to live, meanwhile she feels like she is just existing. She feels like she doesn’t have a purpose in life anymore. The choices made by Wright when introducing Edee to us, in the first half of the film, were great but then it gets rocky as the film goes on.

What Land shows us, is that sometimes grieving a loved one is harder than it seems. Especially when you have lost your family. Edee struggles with the idea of living, she moved up into the mountains to be completely isolated because she just couldn’t bear being around anyone she knew at that point. Slowly, Edee tries to adapt to mountain-living. However, not being able to hunt for food or cut wood for a fire – what we don’t see as basic necessities – is the only way to survive out there. But Edee did not want to survive. We see her break down over not being able to do anything on her own, the idea that she needed assistance and no one was there, her family wasn’t there, ate at her.

Instead of taking her own life with a rifle, she slowly starved herself to death because that seemed easier. I’ve always believed that when you are in a bad headspace, if someone comes along who shows you kindness, just that alone can alter your mindset. When a local hunter, named Miguel (Demián Bichir) stumbles upon her and saves her, it changed everything. Edee and Miguel’s budding friendship was strictly based on the fact that she wanted to learn how to live out there. Edee didn’t expect to have such a strong bond with Miguel and it’s because they truly understood each other, without even realizing it.

Land has beautiful cinematography and great direction from Robin Wright. Even though this isn’t my type of film I can certainly appreciate the work that went into it. Wright gives a strong performance about a grieving mother and widower, who is trying to find a way to live again. The pacing is what made this straining to sit through. It’s a strong debut because of some choices she made but the script was lacking in what it was trying to say.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Mayday’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Mayday is written and directed by Karen Cinorre. It is a daring, visceral debut with absolutely stunning cinematography. It is such a powerful story that addresses womanhood through an alternate reality. We meet Ana, who was just startled out of her dream and the last words we hear, in a whisper, is mayday. As she prepares for a wedding for a woman named Marsha (Mia Goth), we notice that her boss is very aggressive with her. He is physical with her whenever she does something wrong. She runs off to the freezer after he manhandles her. In there, she tries to calm herself down, as the lights begin to flicker because there’s a massive storm coming.

Her boss finds her in the freezer and goes in with her, locking the door behind him. The choice made to keep the camera on the hallway, instead of going into the freezer with Ana worked really well. The score that accompanied the dark hallway, was eerie and it is left up to the viewer to assume what was happening in there between them. Right after, we see her boss walk out and fix his tie, while Ana is on the ground looking dishevelled. She runs to the basement and tries to turn the lights back of from the electrical box but it short circuits, throwing her into an alternate reality.

When Ana washes up on this empty beach in the next shot, she is accompanied by Marsha, dressed in a war uniform. Through this alternate reality, Cinorre was able to play with the camera and create beautiful sequences that pushed boundaries. On this deserted isle, Marsha was the woman in command and trained Ana to be a sharpshooter. Cinorre also wrote clever dialogue that expressed the treatment of women and Marsha preached that she ran things differently on this island. At first Ana does what Marsha says but then as time went on she realizes that she’s not as ruthless as she thinks she is.

Mayday is so unique and for this to be Cinorre’s directorial debut is incredible. It is so stylized and well-written that it feels like a seasoned film. The film can be interpreted in so many ways and that is the beauty of it. The ensemble gives great performances but the standout is Mia Goth, who absolutely owns each and every scene she’s in. The script is structured so well and there are pieces of dialogue that express feelings from women who have been silenced or mistreated.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Marvelous And The Black Hole’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Marvelous and the Black Hole is a magical directorial debut from Kate Tsang. She brings a story about grieving and losing your way after the loss of a loved one. Tsang addresses that pain that never fully goes away through thirteen-year-old Sammy (Miya Cech), who lost her mother and is trying to go on without her. Sammy has a very hard time accepting her mother’s death, so she lashes out against her father, who has been dating someone knew for six months. Sammy doesn’t feel complete, she feels lost and doesn’t know who to turn to. She feels misunderstood and that no one at home is even listening to her.

Miya Cech’s performance is fantastic. Her line delivery and attitude at the beginning of the film impressed me! She really created such a strong character that made you feel for her and understand her. The most important takeaway from the film is that you can find comfort in people when you least expect it. For Sammy, she was caught vandalizing school property, so her father put her in summer school. She leaves in the middle of class because she clearly doesn’t want to be there and bumps into Margot (Rhea Perlman), who turns out to be a marvelous magician.

As the weeks pass, Margot takes Sammy under her wing, first as her assistant and then as her pupil. At first, Sammy was reluctant and acted out with Margot but soon after, she softened. The reason why she did is because she found an adult who was willing to listen to her and appreciate the things she’s interested in. It is such an unlikely pairing because they are total opposites but Sammy felt comfort with Margot, as a maternal figure. Margot and Sammy bond over magic and the loss of their loved ones. They created a beautiful friendship, based on their mutual love and respect for their art and each other.

Marvelous and the Black Hole is charming, endearing and so wholesome. Kate Tsang’s directorial debut is filled with so much love and whimsy, that it came through in Sammy’s dreamlike sequences. There are moments that are surprising because Tsang added some magic with imagery symbolizing Sammy’s emotional state on screen. The main thing about magic, is that things aren’t always as they seem and that’s a perfect way to parallel the grieving process because everyone is hiding their pain.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Superior’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Superior written and directed by Erin Vassilopoulos feels like a retro action thriller. The beginning of the film puts you right in the middle of the action and instantly sets the tone for the rest of the film. Vassilopoulos has a distinct style that she presents in this film and it works for the characters. When Mariane (Alessandra Mesa), runs away from her problems to her childhood house, he is greeted by her estranged sister. Vivian (Ani Mesa) is a stay-at-home housewife struggling in all aspects of her marriage.

The production design for the childhood home works well to accommodate who Vivian is. Once Mariane enters the home and lives there for a couple of days, the perfection of the home slowly slips away, as Mariane influences Vivian. In a way, Vivian needed her sister, just as much as Mariane needed her. Even though they are identical twins, the are complete opposites and this is what made their character development interesting. They had learned a bit from each other, especially Vivian to circle back to her former identity.

The film definitely has flare and Vassilopoulos focused on making it look aesthetically pleasing. She made some great choices with certain scenes and that’s why this stood out. However, the film suffered structurally, as the pacing was off in the second half of the film. Once they switched lives for the day, Vivian’s experience as Mariane was new for her and it was more of an exploration of who she could be. Switching lives felt more like freedom for Vivian than it did for Mariane. The second half did drag a bit but that ending was so interesting!

Superior is a highly stylized thriller that shows the struggle of personal identity and a loss of self. What the Mesa twins do so well is play off of each other and create such an intimate bond between these characters. Even though they hadn’t seen each other in years, they fall right back into step and instantly understand what the other is going through. It’s an interesting watch with great performances and a soundtrack that created a solid vibe for the film.